Bat Shit Crazy
I consider myself to be the “Go Getter” type of person who is always willing to jump on an opportunity to make money. When a customer asks me, “Do you know any handy men that can paint this?” or “I really wish my yard man wasn’t in jail because my hedges need to be trimmed.” I will usually jump in and say, “well..you know..I do that too!” Now obviously, if it is something that is totally out of my realm of capability I would never agree to do a job. Many of my friends know that prior to owning my wildlife business I worked for another large wildlife removal company. I was always asked if I wanted to go do jobs that were “sold” and organized by the sales people in the main office. I always said yes no matter what it was. If a manager needed me to cover someone’s territory in another state because that person quit or was out for a period of time, I was always a team player. They would put me in a hotel and I would just work for several days and come home. As long as there was money on the table I was the man for the job! Every now and then I would agree to do jobs and instantly wonder what was in store for me. You see, the commercial sales people, 90% of the time, don’t actually go to these job sites before pricing them and selling them. They rely solely on the report of the technician that did the inspection. So, if the technician was a guy that was in a hurry to get out of there because he was dying for a cold cut at Subway or maybe if he had to pee really badly he would usually get in, take a few quick pictures and leave. This led to a lot of missed details pertaining to the job. It would be given a price and a guarantee. Immediately that guarantee really meant “whatever we missed, don’t worry our techs will take care of it for you”. I encountered such a job way back in the beginning of my career in 2011. Someone from the office said they had sold a huge bat removal job down on the coast of Mississippi and that there was decent money to be made.. “Hell yeah!” I said..blindly..and stupidly. This was a job I will not forget.
I was told to arrive at my hotel late on a Thursday night so that I could drive to the job site early Friday morning. This was a huge place. It was an apartment complex with 7 separate buildings, all 2.5 stories high. We were supposed to work Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then come back the next weekend to finish up the job. When doing a bat removal, you must abandon what you think is the correct method of removing them and do the process backwards. Normally, if you have, for instance, a raccoon in your attic, you must trap the animal, do the exclusion work (closing up the entry points that the raccoon made to get in your attic) and then the cleaning and sanitation process can begin. With bat removals you must close up all the opening on the entire structure first, install a “bat Valve” or “bat excluder” and wait for them to leave. The bat valve and excluder is a one way door. It allows the bats to leave but not come back in. If you do not cover every crack and crevice first on the structure, they will go right back into the next closest spot. After the bats are gone then the cleanup and ecto-parasite treatment must be completed. This apartment complex was so large that we had Friday and Saturday to foam the construction gap under the roof edges all the way around each building and then Sunday we would install the bat valves. Naturally, with Murphy ’s Law being an actual thing, there were “hang ups” and other environmental elements that impeded the progress. It was at least 95 degrees and the humidity was really high, the heat index was 105 all weekend so working on a ladder was exhausting. We literally had to move our ladder several hundred times per building. Climb up 32 feet..foam to the left and to the right a few feet then climb down. Move the ladder over 3 feet and repeat. Over and over again. Now, it is important to note that when we (my colleague and I) arrived we could smell the guano (bat droppings) from the street and we could hear the squeaks of thousands of bats coming from all 7 buildings. Upon further investigation, I learned from a tenant walking her dog that these bats had been there for over 20 years. I knew I was in for a long weekend. I was dreading the “Cleanup” portion of this job because imagine for a moment what thousands of bats can leave behind in 20 years. No one seemed to think this was an issue…for 20 years?
My colleague and I moved our ladders to the first of the 7 buildings and began foaming. We foamed and foamed and foamed some more for two days straight. We were sunburned and I looked like a California raisin. I had trouble sleeping that night because my neck was sore from looking up at where I was foaming for 12 hours. My colleague was unresponsive in the hotel room. I decided to invest in some beer that night, because that’s what hard working already dehydrated men do. So, we both had a single beer…that was it. We woke up drooling shortly after and realized it was 6am already and we had to go because it was time to hang bat valves (very exciting)! We both wanted to go home at this point but we both knew that this was the most critical point in the process. We couldn’t get lazy and just toss the valves up there so we took our time and made sure we did it right. We finished in a half day and we both packed up our stuff and drove home. Next week we were to come back and take the valves down and then begin the cleanup process. This is where the story gets interesting! Seriously don’t leave or fall asleep! I had to set the scene for the next part of the story.
My colleague and I decided to drive separately this time because he was going somewhere else afterwards. We met early Friday morning in Mississippi and it was already hot. Way too hot to be going into an attic. When cleaning up after bats it is necessary to wear a respirator as well as a Tyvek suit to protect against bacteria and other pathogens as well as any parasites that may be left behind. One of the more common types of diseases caused by guano is Histoplasmosis. The fungus that grows on the guano releases a spore that when inhaled or ingested can cause serious illness. The attic was well over 120 degrees. We were told by the commercial sales guy that, “Oh don’t worry the cleanup isn’t bad. It’s just a few spots on the ends of the buildings where the vents are. It shouldn’t take long at all.” We were optimistic about this because we were told it wouldn’t be bad…but it was. Oh it was very bad..actually the first thing we did was go into the first attic space entry. There was no access to any other part of the building from the attic. There were sheet rock walls up in the attic separating each unit. We had to knock holes in the attic walls to access the space over each unit. When we knocked down the first wall we were both dumbfounded at what we saw. Mountains of bat guano at least 2-3 feet high. Covering the insulation. No insulation could be seen in 90% of the attic spaces. It was now obvious that the technician who did the inspection didn’t even look in the attics. It has been said that once you smell bat poop you never forget it. It’s a very unique smell. “A bit like bitter almonds”, with a lovely ammonia note towards the end. This attic was ruined. Hopefully the other 7 buildings weren’t like this. We knocked out all the walls and found much of the same thing in the entire attic of the 1st building. I tried calling the office and telling them what we found but no one was there because they close at 10am on Saturday….we called our manager and he said, “Just clean it up and we will get it worked out”. Ok then..I guess that means we will get paid for it. We then put on our gear and started cleaning. We used contractor garbage bags and dustpans to scrape and scoop the guano. There are bugs in the guano usually. There are mites, beetles, cockroaches and sometimes fleas. Mostly we found “Bat Bugs”. What is a bat bug you say? Well they look almost identical to a bed bug but they live on the bats. We removed the bats so now these bat bugs didn’t have a host. They decided that we would make great hosts!! They were crawling all over us. It didn’t matter how hot and sweaty we got, the bat bugs loved us. Our Tyvek suits helped a little until the little bastards learned that they could go up the sleeves, pant legs and collar of our suits. Yes, they bite and it sucks. We were in that first attic space for hours and hours. We were able to clean 2 buildings on Friday. We had to stop because we couldn’t keep enough fluids in our bodies. The attic was just too hot and with all of our equipment we were sweating profusely. My colleague took his rubber chemical gloves off and could actually pour the sweat out. There were so many biting bat bugs on us that we did what no licensed pest control operator should ever do. We gave each other a fogger bath. My lips were numb and my eyelids were a little swollen after the pesticide set in but Hey!...No more bugs crawling in my armpits and hair! We made it back to the hotel and agreed that beer wasn’t a good idea. Actually we went to bed very early. We worked the next day doing the same thing as the day before, breaking down attic walls, scooping mounds of bat poop into bags while being bitten by blood sucking parasitic bat bugs and dying of heat stroke. It’s ok though…the office was going to take care of us! When we finished Sunday evening we had completely filled 60 contractor bags to the tippy top with guano, hauled them out of the second story attic and down the stairs to the dumpster. All of the dumpsters in the apartment complex were filled to the brim. We had completed the job and were very excited to get paid more than we had originally been told. Well, we thought that’s what “we will take care of it” meant. The office informed the apartment complex that there was more guano that had to be cleaned and that the price was going to increase by a large amount. The apartment complex respectfully declined to pay for the service because it wasn’t quoted initially. Yaaaay for me and my colleague for going above and beyond and getting completely hosed in the process. We were compensated for the proposed work and then told we shouldn’t have proceeded with the job without having talked to the commercial salesman who sold the job first. He was actually golfing that day so… We were promptly given $100 Lowes gift cards at our next company meeting. Secretly, as to not let the others know that we were getting “special treatment”. So the apartment complex was bat free. We successfully removed thousands of bats and hundreds of pounds of guano. We received an un-quantifiable number of insect bites and lost about 10lbs each that weekend. I sure would have liked to see some pay dirt but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for us. We had been bamboozled, hoodwinked, double-crossed, hornswoggled even! At least it was a decent weight loss method though and I did get a decent farmers tan to boot!